In the BC public postsecondary system, we are "putting our money where our mouth is" & attempting to offer a high-quality, scientifically-rigorous Associate of Science program online. The first 2 courses (Physics & Geology) for this program will be available online in the coming academic year. This project has received funding from both BCcampus's Online Program Development Fund & the Inukshuk Wireless Fund.
The project is led by Ron Evans of North Island College. Ron has been offering a first-year Astronomy course online for several years. College of the Rockies (surprise, surprise - MY institution!!!) is a partner in the project.
I've learned a lot from my involvement in this project. It's been most interesting to explore the topic of learning science at a distance with my colleagues. We all agree that education needs to be more accessible but we also agree that the quality of that education should not be compromised. Science learning includes both theoretical & practical/technical aspects; & the exercise & practice of the scientific method has traditionally been done face-to-face, supervised in a lab.
But what else is possible? How far can we go with the concept of an Associate of Science (or a B.Sc.?) online?
Anyway, I was just catching up on what SCoPE bloggers are talking about and came across this post from Ignatia: Check out the Science Without Borders project. It strikes me that a step toward rethinking teaching in the sciences is to integrate learning and research opportunities that address real world problems.
Does anyone have examples that truly connect the learner to authentic projects like this one?
Scientific research does (or can) benefit us all. Scientists have known this for a long time & it's certainly the main reason that the results of scientific research, while usually funded nationally, are shared internationally. David Reinking is a professor at the University of Georgia & he writes extensively about how 'digital literacies' are changing the way we do things. He was writing about access to information in general when he wrote about the importance of filtering and selecting information...
... but I think his advice & query is even more pertinent to the use of information in the sciences.
A bit off-topic, I suppose; but what the heck? It's week three! We can afford to dabble.
When I taught for Virtual High School some 10 or 12 years ago, I was also site coordinator for my home school. And that meant I was supervising our students who were taking science courses from distant instructors.
There were many problems with how to teach science to students who weren't f2f with you. How to do a broad spectrum of traditional laboratory experiments when you didn't have a laboratory, for instance.
Some VHS teachers asked students to ask their local science teachers to allow them to do the experiments in the local science lab under the supervision of a local teacher (for safety's sake). That was a BAD idea.
There were others who proposed theoretically "safe" experiments that could be done in students' kitchens at home. Not a bad idea - but the breadth of experiments that could be conducted was very limited.
There were some who proposed that students do some not-so-safe experiments in their own kitchens. BAD, BAD idea.
There were some who supplied virtual interactives online -- GOOD idea, but again, what is lost without real beakers and Bunsen burners??
In the past 10-12 years, I'm sure many solutions have been found for these problems. For instance, we now have "virtual dissections" of frogs, etc. And we now see many hybrid courses. But I'm curious about an *entirely online* associate degree - how are these problems addressed???
There are indeed a couple of lab necessities that are difficult to reach. At our institute (educational and research institute for tropical medicine) we try to use simulations to help students get the necessary training. One of our most successful one's is a simulation of a microscope, just got it out into the world in through a post.
But true lab experience, that is still difficult simulate.
The idea of the MMO educational game is to present NASA content in such a way as to draw students into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics learning and to spark interest in STEM-oriented careers. It will be aimed primarily at teenagers, according to NASA, focusing on middle schoolers, high schoolers, and college students...
The power of games as educational tools rapidly is gaining recognition. Virtual worlds with scientifically accurate simulations could permit learners to experiment with chemical reactions in living cells, practice operating and repairing expensive equipment, and experience microgravity," NASA explained in an announcement issued Monday. "The goal is to make it easier to grasp complex concepts and transfer this understanding quickly to practical problems."
I'm not qualified at all to participate in a discussion on Science, but I'm intrigued with technology and its uses in education. A Google search led me to this New York Times Education article on "No Test Tubes? Debate on Virtual Space Science Classes" http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/20/education/20online.html?_r=1. Embedded in the article is a link "Everything but the Formaldehyde" http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/20/education/20obox.html, which in turn has a link to a virtual lab that you can try out http://www.latenitelabs.com/
1. How to do a broad spectrum of traditional laboratory experiments when you don't have a laboratory?
2. What is lost without real beakers and Bunsen burners?
IMO these questions are closely related. How can you do a broad spectrum of traditional lab experiments without a traditional lab? You can't. You can more-or-less replicate the easy labs, like adding vinegar to baking soda, but let's face it: most traditional experiments require traditional lab equipment (like beakers & bunsen burners), lab environments (e.g. sterile chambers), & the safety apparatus to support such things. And the equipment gets more complicated, expensive, specialized & dangerous the higher up you go educationally.
So the key, for me, is that word 'traditionally'. Just how important or necessary are those traditional lab experiments to the learning of science? Just how important is it to know exactly how to turn the dials of a microscope, handle the glassware when conducting a titration, or get the flame height 'just so' when heating something over a bunsen burner? Are these experiences really science, or are they technical skills that have traditionally been developed to support the learning of science? If you are not going into medicine, do you really have to know how to dissect? If you're not going to be a chemist, do you really have to know how to do a titration?
It's the very questions you present that makes us ask the question: how (or why) do we re-think the teaching of science?
I think there is a real danger in separating 'technical skills' from the learning of science. Science is also a process, and technical skills are essential to this process.
Our understanding of anatomy and physiology comes from a tradition of hands on dissection. Likewise, many discoveries in chemistry might have been missed by people with sloppy lab skills. Learning technical skills helps students appreciate the history of each field. Agreed that not every biology or chemistry student will go on to a career that requires these specific technical skills. However, learning technical skills is a matter of developing discipline and attention to detail. These habits are certainly transferable and would benefit most students.
However, to get more to the "Science" theme, rather than technology, there are some very good science simulations. One of the best I've seen recently is the Tour of the testis, which takes you right through the whole process of sperm creation etc. http://slurl.com/secondlife/OSU%20Medicine/130/113/45
There are a *lot* of other science based ones, such as molecules, DNA, medical simulations, heart simulations etc., etc., etc.